The National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19 and popular fast food chain McDonald’s launched a coronavirus testing center at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City on Friday to test local residents in the city and nearby communities, and 20,000 of its restaurant employees in Metro Manila.
NTF chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. lauded McDonald’s for its initiatives under the “M Safe” campaign to protect its staff and, in effect, the diners amid the pandemic.
Mayor Victor Ma. Regis “Vico” Sotto thanked McDonald’s for including the testing of some 1,000 tricycle drivers in Pasig City as a public service. He said this is essential as they are “highly exposed” to possible infection as they travel and transport people everyday.
“Nakita natin na they are protecting their own frontliners at employees nila. More or less 20,000 ang ite-test so napakagandang halimbawa na sana pamarisan ng ibang business sector. (We have seen that they are protecting their own frontliners and employees. More or less, 20,000 employess will be tested so it is a good example that hopefully will be replicated by other [businesses]). They have to protect their own frontliners, at the same time, they can protect the confidence ng consumer to dine in,” Galvez said.
During the program launch on Friday, Sotto underscored the importance of conducting more tests in order to overcome the challenges brought about by the pandemic.
“Let’s intensify our fight against COVID-19,” the mayor said. “Steps like this, the testing, with the help of McDonald’s … this is really one of the first important steps that we have to take in this long fight against COVID-19.”
Aside from Galvez, those who attended the launch were NTF deputy chief implementer and testing czar Vince Dizon, McDonald’s President and CEO Kenneth Yang, Pasig Mayor Sotto, and Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) general manager Jose Arturo Garcia, Jr.
Dizon said the cost of the tests will be shouldered by the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) amid its feud with the Philippine Red Cross (PRC).
Last Thursday, the PRC said in a statement that they would have to stop conducting COVID-19 tests for the government after PhilHealth failed to pay its P930-million debt to them for the past tests.
The PRC has been conducting tests for medical frontliners, government workers, arriving Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), airports and seaports passengers, and private individuals which are charged in their PhilHealth.
However, it was bared by Dizon that the PhilHealth last paid its dues to the PRC in September, a month after the expose of a P15-billion corruption scandal within the organization.
“‘Yung problema sa PRC, confident kami ni Sec. Charlie at Sec. Duque na ma-a-address iyon. May change sa leadership sa PhilHealth so bigyan lang natin ng pagkakataon si President Gierran but its more of an administrative issue than anything else, documentation and admin issues lang (We, along with Sec. Charlie [Galvez] and [Health] Sec. [Francisco] Duque III are confident that the problem with PRC will be addressed. There is already a change in the PRC leadership so let’s give President [Dante] Gierran a chance but its more of an administrative issue than anything else, it’s just documentation and administrative issues),” Dizon said.
He added that discussions were already made between the PhilHealth and PRC to settle the government’s debt.
Meanwhile, Dizon said the samples that will be obtained from the Ynares testing center will be processed in other government laboratories such as the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Muntinlupa City, Tala Hospital in Valenzuela City, Lung Center of the Philippines in Quezon City, and Jose B. Lingad Memorial Regional Hospital in Pampanga after PRC ceased its operations.
Due to the stoppage of PRC’s operations, the government greatly diminished its capacity to conduct COVID-19 tests by 10,000 to 15,000 daily.
“Napakalaking bagay ang paghinto ng Red Cross so aasahan natin na bababa ang testing output dahil sa pagsara (The cease of Red Cross’ operations has a big impact so we should expect that the testing output will decrease because of its work stoppage),” Dizon said.
PRC, according to its chairman, Senator Richard Gordon, will continue to test private individuals and other clients whose payments are up to date.